EXP ANNOUNCER: We interrupt our regular programming with a special announcement regarding a new book about Jimi Hendrix whose authors offer a fresh perspective on a well-documented life and legend.
HOST: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to internet station StephenKPeeples.com.
Tonight we are featuring an interview with two very peculiar-looking gentlemen who go by the names of Kenneth and Harvey Kubernik on the not-so-dodgy subject of the brothers’ latest book, “Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child.”
We asked Mr. Kubernik and Mr. Kubernik for their regarded opinions of the life and times of Jimi Hendrix, and how their book differs from previous bios of the revolutionary rock guitarist widely considered the world’s best.
EXP ANNOUNCER: Ooop! Blop! Bup-bup-bup! I don’t believe it!
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Stephen K. Peeples: And believe it or not, I’m here with the Kubernik brothers, Harvey and Kenneth, who between them have authored nearly two dozen books on music and pop culture, to talk about their new book “Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child,” out November 23, 2021, and it’s been a long time in the making. How are you?
Harvey Kubernik: Doing fine. We all go back a long time to when you first came to town, writing for Cashbox and then freelance.
Peeples: Yeah, 1975-76, when I was so wet behind the ears, I almost drowned. But I could ask you, “What’s happening in town, Harvey?” and 20 minutes later have enough column items to fill my page.
Kenneth: We were all so much older, then, we’re younger than that now.
Peeples: Yep, Bob had it right, as usual. So, zeroing in on your book, what strikes me the most is the depth with which you cover Jimi’s pre-history. I really want to focus on that in this interview to fill in some of those blanks. Some people still think he swooped into the States from England already on fire and have no idea about all the sparks in Seattle and L.A. and New York and on the road it took to get that fire lit.
But before we get into that, and you guys can tag team if you like, but my first question must be: How is this different from the other umpteen books about Hendrix that have been published over the last 50, 60 years?
Kenneth: That’s a question I’ve been asked again and again and the first question that came up when we were given the opportunity to write about Jimi. I think outside of Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln, there’s no one whose life has been more documented than Jimi Hendrix’s. And I’ve read as you have and I’m sure many other fans of Jimi have read so many of the same books and the stories. It’s almost all part of a shared DNA.
So, what could we possibly add?
I’d like to think our take is not so much one of an original or a transformative reinterpretation, but more an attempt to try to remind us again and again, who he really was and what he meant then and still means today. We wanted to remind us of the value of the music itself in its capacity to touch people beyond the obvious superficial pop notoriety, the ’60s icon, the burning of the guitar, all these tropes or memes as we call them now.
They seem to obscure at least for me that his ability to communicate through an instrument remains this singular part of a very small group of individuals who are so emotionally transparent and used music to communicate that very potent universal sound, which music is. That ability often seems to get lost.
So, from my point of view, I wanted to dig deeply into his relationship to his instrument, to the musicians he heard, what he drew from, what inspired him to reach for that guitar that never was beyond his reach—he would sleep with it as a young boy. It was a passion that just became a totem in his own life and was the only way he knew how to fulfill his own sense of himself. That’s very, very powerful to me.
So, the question is, how do you put that in words? How do you find that source and revivify it in a culture that’s, again, subsumed with all this noise? And so that was the challenge.
Harvey: From my point of view, I think there’s a little bit of fate or destiny. Andrew Loog Oldham says, “There are no accidents.” Yes, I saw Jimi Hendrix and the Experience play live in 1969. I did meet Mitch Mitchell and Al Hendrix. And this was a few years before I was a published music journalist.
But it never failed to happen over the years: Every year or so, I would run into somebody like Johnny Echols, co-founder of the group Love. And I would say to him, “You know, my brother and I saw you in 1966 at the KBLA Radio concert,” or “I saw you later with Love, and I interviewed Arthur Lee for Melody Maker in 1975, and I have a signed ‘Forever Changes’ album.”
Once you demonstrate to people like Johnny Echols or, later on, Bobby Womack, that you caught it early, you saw it as a teenager, you weren’t talkin’ about girls and narcotics, then all of a sudden, an interesting door opens where they go, “Hey, uh, you saw Jimi?”
“Yeah, I saw Jimi.”
“Oh man, I saw Jimi. I met Jimi on the road with Sam Cooke,” Bobby would say, or Johnny would say, “Oh, well, you know, we met Jimi early because we knew Little Richard and Billy Preston.”
And I would file this information. I didn’t know it would ever end up in a book with Kenneth. I have six Hendrix books by other authors, but I’ve never read some of this stuff anywhere else.
Like when Johnny was confiding to me—on tape, of course—about auditioning for The O’Jays with Jimi at, like, the 5-4 Ballroom or in downtown Los Angeles. I know the geography, the regional references. I know they were The O’Jays before they were on Philadelphia International Records, and Johnny and Jimi both went out for the guitar slot in the group.
So, all these things had such a regional flavor, ‘cause these were Los Angeles stories. Then being somebody who went to Gold Star recording studio and actually played on some sessions there, hearing the lore that in early 1965 Jimi Hendrix and Arthur Lee worked with a singer named Rosa Lee Brooks there, on “My Diary,” which apparently was one of the first times Jimi formally entered a recording studio; I think Arthur wrote the song for Revis Records.
A few things cited in the book do come from other books or some magazine articles, but I like the firsthand thing where Kenneth and I—you’ve done this for half a century—do the interviews ourselves. It irks me that people assume they’re from other sources. No, we do these interviews, unless otherwise cited. I can’t help it if others were too lazy not to find Johnny Echols or didn’t have the privilege of meeting Bobby Womack or Kim Fowley or all the other people who personally gave information to Kenneth and me.
For other interviews we thought essential to the story, I would say to Kenneth, “I really need to get a hold of Dave Mason, OK?” [Mason played the 12-string acoustic guitar on Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” in January 1968. —ed.]
Found him. And because I’d met him before and had written for Melody Maker and Crawdaddy, he said, “Oh, wow, I’ve read your stuff over the years!” People like Mason have told their Jimi Hendrix stories a million times before, but I like to think when I conducted the interviews, we went deeper and got a little different information.
I know when you were probably cruising this book, you were going, “Wow, Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis, Moby Grape!” Names and people you’ve met or seen or been around who bring some very interesting reflections about Jimi that are about the world and the music and our own journeys as well as Jimi. Because for some reason, he becomes this Pied Piper for all of us. And I think the book does a good job of making that point.
As I kept building the literary expedition, Kenny on occasion of course would join me, sometimes as an editorial assistant or a co-author.
We have a relationship with Sterling Publishers, wholly owned by Barnes & Noble, that goes back more than a decade, and we’ve been working with an editor there for 10 years named Barbara Berger, and we’ve developed a trust and a relationship. So, when Kenny would say, “I really wanna bring in some of the musicians I’ve met in England from the Soft Machine or Van der Graaf Generator,” I’m not gonna block that impulse.
Thankfully for us and the readers and the Hendrix Nation, we had an editor who found the stuff very refreshing because we weren’t jumping on a bandwagon; we were actually creating our own new monorail, I like to think.
And then we also had to find corresponding images, artifacts, visuals. Some I had, some I had to do the licensing trips for; sometimes the company found stuff. Then Kenneth knew people who had previously unseen pictures, and he found things like the Soft Machine member’s diary. I really think the gumbo is really striking and unique.
Peeples: And using the oral history device is key. That threads throughout Harvey’s books and your work as well, Kenneth, and it works well in “Voodoo Child.”
Harvey: So, I think that answers part of the question, that the regional thing, the Los Angeles history. You were very involved I know years ago  co-producing the Grammy-nominated Monterey International Pop Festival box set for the Rhino label. At the same time, I was interviewing people like Chris Hillman of The Byrds, and he would say, “Well, you know, I saw Jimi Hendrix at Ciro’s before we realized it was the same guy playing at Monterey,” and told me the story. I had those little things filed in the trust. So, all that said, it’s not nostalgia if it’s new information.
Kenneth: If I can follow up, Stephen, just with something Harvey said. One of the things people ask me a lot is, “How do you guys divvy up and how do you complement or bring different things to the table?” And I think Harvey just established it, because he is very, very L.A.-centric, a real booster, and it’s a wonderful thing.
But my own particular musical sensibilities are very English, and I’ve had the great good fortune of working in England with a variety of musicians who were very active in the British music scene in the height of the ‘60s. So, I could draw on this remarkably deep bench of somewhat cult-y, let’s be honest, but invaluable voices of musicians who were never drawn into the larger canvas of talking about Jimi that you routinely see in all the books and articles that just get recycled again and again.
But Harvey mentions bands like Van der Graaf and Soft Machine—these are musicians I personally worked with making music, producing records, etc. And those sorts of relationships Harvey might have with a Bobby Womack and a Johnny Echols here in L.A., I could complement that by having relationships with the actual musicians who played on tour with Jimi, who were at the Bag O’Nails, and the Scotch of St. James, and were at the Marquee the night that he met so-and-so, be it a Beck or a Clapton.
And so, as I said, we have this wonderfully deep bench of personalities to draw from that instantly distinguishes us from everybody else. Now, of course, it remains to be determined if what they contributed is of interest to anyone—I can’t speak to that—but I’d like to think these people add a vastly delightful perspective. They’re all wonderful personalities in their own rights. They also do a good job of conveying the flavor of that time and really evoke the period in a way I do think comes through in the book, another way of distinguishing us from just simply another exhaustive cut-and-paste job.
Peeples: Well, let me get to some specific questions. In the intro, I really liked the way you guys painted a comparison between Lincoln, The Beatles, and Jimi in that all of them packed what they’re most famous for into a really compressed period, four to six years basically. Those three historical figures, even though they’re completely, absolutely different, light years away, have that in common.
Kenneth: Thanks for making that observation. It was very important to distinguish our book from the opening paragraph because there are so many titles to choose from about Hendrix. I know from my own background and training and studying history at great length and have done some work in that field, and finding links, fresh links, distinguished connections that people don’t normally associate with Jimi, was always in the back of my mind. I wanted to communicate that from the very beginning, from the first page.
An introduction I believe is really important to establishing the bona fides of the writers and also the sensibility of the book, that if you catch something new or different early on, like, “Oh, this is a fresh take,” maybe the whole book will ride that sensibility. That’s what we tried to do, to establish from the get-go that this was not gonna be a typical Jimi book.
We view his story through, if not a philosophical prism, but certainly a historical framework that reminds us how Jimi was this brief, extraordinary transit across the sky, and then it was gone. We asked ourselves, “Who else in history had this?”
And as far as Lincoln and The Beatles were concerned, I can only say that if you press history a little bit, each situation was almost like a lava dome that exploded. It was building, building, building, and then the pressure released this extraordinary set of events, and we’re still dealing in the aftermath. And that’s how I always felt about Jimi.
I could never get over the fact that he arrives in London, basically unknown to the world—not in the Chitlin’ Circuit, but in the world, in September of ’66 and he’s gone in September 1970. Almost four years to the date! It was a remarkable confluence of concision.
And then when I started thinking about The Beatles, for instance—and Harvey and I talked about this. The Beatles explode in ’62, and by the time they quit touring and retreated to the confines of Abbey Road, it was over in four years! Boom! Done!
I remember vividly as a young, precocious music fan that when they announced they were over touring. People who were not around at the time don’t realize how traumatic it was. Touring was the way musicians connected with their audiences, and if you stopped touring, that meant the band was over. So, we thought that was literally the end of The Beatles!
Harvey: Yeah, we thought we were all gonna start sitting shiva for the music world and The Beatles: “What do you mean they’re not coming next summer?”
Peeples: Oh, yeah. How can we EVER carry on?
Kenneth: Exactly. And that’s what created an opportunity for The Beatles to do something even more transgressive than they had done before [with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band], then creating a window of opportunity for a whole new movement, a whole new experience.
Harvey: This isn’t the traditional intro. I think Michael Bloomfield said it to me, “Some people come down and are messengers and it’s a pretty brief trip. They do their thing and they split.” I know that’s kind of hipster lingo jazz Michael Bloomfield Chicago blues cat talk, but you have to consider what Jimi has become to so many people.
It’s only halfway through this book that I realize not only did he change the whole direction of what the guitar could do, but also lyrically, he was way deeper than I ever realized. Vocally—I’m not saying Jimi invented rap music, but his talk-speak-singing may have been a seed.
Also, in talking to many people who knew him, he was a soft-spoken character offstage, and then he let go onstage; he was Walter Mitty kind of groovin’ around, but when he was in front of an audience, he was transformed.
Peeples: Going back to the intro, you touched on it in there and pretty much throughout the book: The role of racism in Jimi’s rise, both in the U.S. and the U.K., and how different it was in the States and in the U.K. before and after he went to Britain. Racism had a bizarre effect on his career. What’s your take?
Kenneth: As a white middle-class Jewish kid on the West Side of Los Angeles, the idea of Jimi being Black and the racist dimension of it never entered my consciousness whatsoever. That’s something that only comes over time where you develop and you mature, hopefully, and develop ideas and understand the layers of complications in your own life regarding that.
As I was doing research for the book, I became keenly aware that there’s been, in the last decade or longer, within a lot of what they call a Black scholarly or Black intellectual community, a variety of writers—scholars, academics—who’ve really done a deep dive into this dynamic.
One writer who was very influential was cited in the book, a noted scholar named Paul Gilroy, author of “Darker Than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture” [Harvard Press, 2010]. He really opened my eyes and helped me to understand what Jimi represented then from a Black point of view, and the role his color plays in the Black community in general today.
So, I was keenly aware of trying to toggle between that period and what we look back to now and how we re-contextualize him. As you know, Stephen, being one of them, back in the day [three times – ed.], Jimi’s audience was 99% white rock kids; it was the Fillmore audience! And he didn’t seem to be really hung up about that very much; he was not very politically engaged.
Over the decades, Jimi’s vision has been appropriated and maybe some might even claim misappropriated by people who have a variety of political agendas to reposition him as a more political or contentious figure than he might well have seen himself.
One cannot help but remember his revolutionary, incendiary performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in August ’69…
…and that famous moment soon after on “The Dick Cavett Show,” at the height of the Vietnam War, when Jimi comes out and says, “Oh, I’m a proud member of the 101st Airborne,” and he flashes the peace sign. That was about as political as he got.
But that gets back to Gilroy’s comments: The power of Jimi’s music was political by virtue of his persona and the way he played, so it’s not surprising he became a kind of a political spokesman despite his own personal predilections one way or the other.
Also, I think it gets overlooked that there was a great deal of prejudice in England, that somehow racism was unique to America, and we have to carry the scar with us, and that when he went to England, it was all groovy. Not quite.
The whole idea of the “fuzzy wuzzy” was very prominent then. And when he would go to different regions of England to play in the hinterlands, he came up against a lot of racist catcalls and other things. So, I don’t wanna let the Brits off the hook completely.
But certainly in London—and we need to be mindful of that—in London, where it was all happening, he was greeted uniformly for the most part. That very cosmopolitan scene allowed him to move with some fluidity and get himself going in a way that would have been very difficult in America at that time.
Harvey: Dr. James Cushing, a contributor to my books and of course this collaboration with Kenneth, read part of the first draft. I said, “We’re not here to be Fox News or CNN. I don’t wanna do a political book. There’s guitar stuff to talk about, there’s equipment, I have access to the engineers, but I really do want to address things like segregation and integration.”
He was a “West Coast Seattle boy,” according to people who went to high school with Jimi. He attended public schools, played on integrated playgrounds—apparently, he was a really good baseball infielder too when I took a look at some of his early artwork, which we didn’t have access to license for this book.
Some of his first drawings were of Pacific Coast League Pac-8 football players like the Washington Huskies and the UCLA Bruins because those are the games that were on TV in black and white all through the ‘60s. I never thought Jimi played football, but along with drawing pictures of Mars, he was also doing color drawings of football players in West Coast football gear. And isn’t it interesting: The illustrations I’ve seen are of the Washington and the UCLA Bruins football teams, and then he ends up living in Los Angeles a bit, recording at TTG down here…
Kenneth: He played at UCLA. Performed at Ackerman Student Union [on February 13, 1968].
Harvey: I walked into a record store in Sherman Oaks, California, Freakbeat Records. The owner, Bob Say, goes, “What are you workin’ on next?” I go, “A book on Jimi Hendrix.” Then everybody kind of smiles like, “Oh, God, another Hendrix book.”
Bob Say says, “See that guy looking in the record bins? He saw Jimi Hendrix at UCLA at Ackerman Student Union.”
I strike up a conversation with a guy named Mark Wellman, and I said, “Can I interview you?” and he goes, “Well, yeah, and I have the ticket stub playing at the Ackerman Union Ballroom.” But it is not lost on Jimi Hendrix that he’s actually playing at UCLA, a school whose football teams he used to watch on TV.
And I think this is one of the things we bring to the table: The destiny aspect, and such clear unique regionality stuff that in some ways—I feel this—we become messengers, karmic corrective messengers, for Jimi, and I really felt that.
That’s why I have had such really good dialogues with Janie Hendrix—two very long interviews with her over the years and met her at NAMM and did a film festival where she was present. I really think our book displays many different shades of Jimi and his travelogue displayed that people may not know.
Peeples: In the book’s intro, you also make the connection between Jimi and Lennon and McCartney, because all three of them lost their mothers when they were teenagers, and that loss and the grief and everything involved informed the work of all three of them for the rest of their lives.
I thought I’d ask you about Jimi’s relationship with his mom, and then maybe how that was reflected later on, perhaps in songs like “Angel” or “Little Wing”…
[Hendrix’s parents Al and Lucille had a contentious marriage that ended in divorce in 1951; he won custody of Jimi (then still James) and his two younger brothers, Leon and Joe. In February 1958, an alcoholic with cirrhosis of the liver, Lucille died of a ruptured spleen at age 32, when James was 15. – ed.]
Kenneth: The loss of a mother at that young and impressionable age must have affected him. The family always fought. It was not a happy household. Dad, Al, was a bit of a rascal, and his mother, I interpret her as more of an idea than a reality.
She struggled with health and had her own demons but remained an ideal in Jimi’s mind. It’s as if she represented something he could never fully embrace or grasp; she was just always just outside his reach for a variety of family reasons, health reasons, and just the psychology of the times.
It was just a challenging environment for him to be raised in; there was nothing stable about it, so he would fabricate in his own mind these sorts of relationships.
Harvey: I don’t know if it’s a destiny thing or an ironic aspect, but you have Jimi later playing with Little Richard who is well known for a song called “Lucille,” and then one of his biggest heroes and influences in history, and a guy who gave him a guitar, B.B. King, had a guitar of the same name.
Peeples: About 42 of ‘em…
Harvey: Yeah, exactly, but I mean, maybe in Jimi’s mind, when he played Ciro’s in Hollywood with Little Richard in 1965 and was on the road with him across the United States, maybe as he’s playing “Lucille” with Little Richard it just went a little deeper into him. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he did carry these things with him.
Kenneth: And there is, I think, a strong connection between his embrace of science fiction as a young boy and the idealization of the mother figure. Not to get completely going down some very peculiar poetic path here, but these are all ways of creating alternative realities, almost like utopian futures or alternative readings, a kind of idealization.
And if I can make a broader connection, one thing that’s emerged recently about Jimi is this idea of Afro-futurism, ‘cause of course, he used a lot of language in the lyrics that was both poetic, romantic, and creating alternative realities in terms of different settings, almost a kind of Frank Herbert-like “Dune” world, and outer space spaceships, all these sorts of things, and that he was almost like “Swiss Family Robinson” in space, “Lost in Space.” Jimi was literally lost in space!
If his mother wasn’t exactly June Lockhart, he could idealize her and if he could never really grasp her or hold her because she was taken from him at such a young age—he could commemorate that idealized relationship in the songs that would follow, and so he would be able to converge all these idealized alternative realities that clouded his mind.
Peeples: Jimi’s sci-fi fascination: His spacey lyrics are less about acid hallucinations and more about flashing back to the sci-fi comics he read as a kid, and places and things in Seattle, like Spanish Castle, and how it takes half a day to get there if you travel by Dragonfly. And he’s actually talking about Spanish Castle Ballroom, a venue he used to go to all the time, and going by bus, which is so arcane.
But back then we’re 15-16-17-year-old high school kids listening to the song and the story and we’re like, blasting through outer space on a dragonfly with Jimi, you know? “Hang on, my darlin’…” And it’s not in Spain, “but all the same, it’s a groovy name,” and “it’s all in your mind,” he sings. So where is it? “Takes a half a day to get there…”
All these influences came out in his lyrics. The words were so visual, you didn’t need drugs to imagine a vivid picture, to float our little minds, as Jimi urged—which is not to say certain substances didn’t enhance the…experience.
Harvey: In my interviews with both Kim Fowley and Janie Hendrix, they tell us what the Spanish Castle venue is, and she explains to us what the Dragonfly is. That’s something only Seattle-area locals would know. Not that I’m Kreskin predicting the future, but I know one month, two months, three months from now, we’re going to be reading somebody citing the Dragonfly explanation or maybe Spanish Castle. And you just brought it up too.
Peeples: Well, speaking of spacey lyrics, there’s a perception Jimi was spaced out all the time, onstage and off, and was not able to verbally articulate, and that seemed true maybe in the last year or two of his life, while he had always communicated more effectively through his music. But for the most part, he was really “normal,” in that he corresponded with people, and he kept a journal. Talk about that a little bit.
Harvey: He did keep notepads. He did write postcards and letters to his father, to Linda Keith. He was cogent. Maybe this was the first year before it all blew up bigger. He knew the people who helped him—this goes back to Faye [Lithofayne Prigdon, a girlfriend from Harlem he lived with circa 1964]. He kept those relationships that were there in ’64, ‘5 and ‘6 and ‘7, and these people who were there watching him play, they were at his funeral. It’s an aspect Kenny has riffed on many times.
Kenneth: My favorite book on Jimi Hendrix is this very small little book—somewhat obscure among the larger, more well-known books, I guess. But it’s simply a compendium of every interview he ever gave, stripped out of the context, and it’s a running commentary of all his conversation, just one page after another. And you get into this flow where you start to read him and get into his rhythms.
Again, the musicality of Jimi infected every aspect of his life. So, when people talk about the little clips in the documentaries where you hear him make these little statements that seem like, “Oh, man, this guy’s completely wasted” or whatever, it’s not the case at all!
He really traffics in metaphor, because his lucidity is on his instrument, and then when he has to retreat to words, he employs metaphor because he’s struggling; not in any torturous way, but the struggle is to find the substitute for how articulate and precise he is with his music.
So, when somebody would ask him a question, of course, it maybe sounds a little rambling and discursive, but in reality, he’s just conveying a sensibility, and he lived it.
I mean, everything about Jimi was so audaciously sincere. He was genuinely this kind of soft-spoken, very kind of poetic, nuanced soul who felt things so deeply. He would just pull on the thread of something: While everybody was looking at the full coat, he would dote on just one little thing. And people would think, “Why is he just fixating on one thing?” And they would ascribe to that, “Oh, he’s wasted, he’s stoned. Why is he this, that, or the other?”
But in reality, he was more acutely aware than most of us. He picked up the very essences of things, and from that, he could extrapolate a much larger picture, and then turn it into a soundscape, and then we could all swim in it together. He was actually doing a kind of a transmogrification from thought into action, which was extremely novel, but has a great tradition. Musicians and composers have always been able to use the language of music to evoke a sensibility that is so hard to put into words.
Harvey: And lyrically, he could get something across in so few words. I mean, look at the title of “If 6 Was 9.” Or how about something like, “Let me stand next to your fire,” or it came from “Let me stand next to your fireplace.” But think about it: Trying to get close to a woman, and “Let me stand next to your fire.” And then all of a sudden, there’s corresponding drumbeats courtesy of Mitch, and throbbing bass work of Noel Redding, and it all hits.
And that’s another thing, and you’re one of the few people I know we can talk about the disc jockey Jimmy Rabbitt: When he would play Jimi Hendrix in town, on Los Angeles radio, KRLA, ’69, ’70, ’71, he never said, “That was the Jimi Hendrix Experience,” the way traditional AM or FM underground DJs would. He would always say, “Comin’ up next: some stuff from Jimi, Mitch, and Noel.” So, you saw it as a trio, almost jazz, like it’s Jim Hall, Barney Kessel, and Shelly Manne. Who would actually go, “Jimi, Mitch, and Noel”? No last names, no nothing. He capsulized it as a sound dynamic of three.
You start listening to Jimi, and then all of a sudden, “I’m just gonna listen to Mitch Mitchell on the left speaker this time, or on headphones, and see where he’s going, or some of the bass work of Noel,” and I think the book helps transport you to all these different dimensions.
[To wit: Check out Mitch Mitchell’s drum track for the jazzy “Up From the Skies” from “Axis: Bold As Love” in the clip below. —ed.]
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Peeples: Going back to pre-history, what kind of place was Seattle for a Black kid to grow up in the ‘40s and ‘50s? And maybe bring his grandmother Nora and her Native American heritage into the story and how that may have informed him.
Kenneth: OK. That’s a very good question. In the introduction, there’s a discussion about how Seattle is one of these cities in transition, in the post-war era—he was born in ’42 at the height of the war, but let’s just say the post-war era. Seattle is part of the whole idea of the West, of a new metropolitan West, West Coast. The power elite is all situated on the East Coast before that. Places like Southern California, the aerospace industry, helped propel the city of Los Angeles and Southern California into an economic powerhouse. The same thing is true to a much smaller degree in Seattle and the Northwest, because of shipping, trans-Pacific modes of the economy beginning. Seattle was a city going through a transition, finding its oats, you might say.
Like any other relatively big American city at the time, there was a Black community that was segregated, and there’s no pretending otherwise that Jimi grew up in what might be the equivalent of a South Central L.A. or a Watts, a working-class Black community. It wasn’t one of great impoverishment per se, but generally impoverishment of opportunities, no question about that.
But there was always love in the community. They had good public schools, that’s important to remind people. Public schools were a big exponent. And Jimi prospered to that extent. He had a great network of family and similar-age cousins and whatnot, and friends who helped nurture him and keep him relatively on the straight and narrow. He did have a few moments where he lost the thread as a teenager and maybe made some bad choices.
As far as his grandmother’s concerned, like any other community of what I would call “inside-outsiders,” meaning her being a Cherokee, a First Nation! Americans, true Americans, which couldn’t help but add a certain vitality and singular sensibility to his own awareness of where he fit in, or as a mosaic that his own genetic mix produced. He was an amalgam of a variety of things.
And I’m sure there were times where he was mystified by his own identity as an individual, not only as a Black man in a powerful white world, but also with the Native American influence; but I’m sure he took great pride in it, and over time, I’m sure that became even more palpable to him in terms of paying respect and honoring it.
I think it also helped define his look. His—how shall I put it?—not quite Indian headdress. I don’t want to be too simplistic here, simpleminded about it, but Jimi was a peacock. Very quickly on, he discovered a way to present himself physically and draw attention to himself, and I think that could well be part of the legacy of an individual striving to find his own identity, coming from such a mixed background of such powerful sources.
It’s like a recipe where you’re putting in some very powerful spices, and you wonder how it’s all gonna taste when it comes together or not. So, Jimi was always a work in progress in that regard.
Harvey: And a couple of things just to add—and again, these are more visual aspects to the Jimi monument. We can say, “Sure, he did a song called ‘Cherokee Mist,’ and there were boas and feathers and all that, and tribal instincts. But also, when he first came to town, he made sure to get a pair of Fairchild moccasins that you see him wear in a lot of photos—at least in ’68, maybe. Those were made up in Topanga or somewhere out here, I think by Geordie Fairchild. They didn’t have those in England. I mean, they were Indian birth. Neil Young later would get the buckskin and the Fairchild moccasins—I even had a pair of those things. Not that you got them over at Western Costume or something, but I think Jimi knew even after a while, the clothing he’d wear would make impact, and I think he was very conscientious of the signals he was sending out.
He came along in a time where the musicians weren’t starting clothing lines and weren’t thinking of stuff like branding. It was purely instinctual, and it was a visual experience. He’s also at the forefront coming out of an AM radio dial—where we first hear him—into the really freeform underground FM world. This is years and years before the internet and MTV. Music videos, or promo clips as they were called then, were very scarce. So, it was about seeing him live, or looking at him in color photos, and he would just jump off the page. The dude had the whole package.
Peeples: You also reference his seeing Elvis at Sick Stadium in Seattle on September 1, 1957, as a pivotal moment, a couple of months before Jimi’s 15th birthday [November 27]. It showed him possibilities for a different future, a different path he might follow, instead of working at Boeing or whatever. The fact that 90 percent of the audience was screaming teenage girls was not lost on him, I’m sure. The next year, Jimi gets his first guitar.
Kenneth: Well, we key in on him seeing Elvis for two reasons. One, we had a decision to make because there are already so many references and books that detail the chronicle of his life day-by-day. So we decided we were just not gonna burden the reader with a lot of the minutiae, but instead begin the book with what we thought was this very seminal event.
It’s at this formative moment when he’s just young enough, ambitious enough in his own sense of where he wants to be in the world, and he finds himself witnessing the current godlike totem figure in popular culture. What an impression that must have made on him.
When I first discovered or read—or maybe Harvey told me first, I don’t remember now—that Jimi saw Elvis, my first immediate thought was, “Isn’t that interesting!” You don’t normally make an association between Jimi and Elvis, for obvious reasons: cultural, social, political, everything.
Then we discover that Mick Jagger at the same exact age saw Buddy Holly in London! And what impact that might have had on him, either consciously or subconsciously.
So, you have these people who were iconic figures later in life who were present at the birth of this thing—rock ’n’ roll. With Jimi, we wanted to look at how his fuse was lit.
I mean, we’re not here to make a straight line between Elvis and Jimi pursuing a career in music and becoming the Black Elvis, or anything as banal as that, but there are continuities. There are contours. People sensitive to the flows and ebbs of things picked up on how seeds are planted and nurtured and grow. So, it’s just so appropriate to me to begin the proper text of the book by jumping into Jimi seeing Elvis. It just seemed to be a nice way to establish this sense of continuity and the way people are finding extraordinary connections in unexpected ways.
And the other reason we start with Jimi seeing Elvis is a conversation.
Harvey: I was able to interview people like Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who wrote many songs for Elvis Presley and bring them into the book. I know the Ventures, seen them play, and got a hold of Don Wilson of the Ventures—who were in Seattle and had hits as early as 1960 and ’61. I wanted other guitar players from the region including Peter Lewis from Moby Grape talking about sharing bills or going to clubs with Jimi back then. When you hear Don Wilson of the Ventures or Peter Lewis discuss Jimi, it’s not blues people! It’s not the same blues people or the same guys from England: Clapton, Beck, Page, Pete Townshend. We wanted to bring something new to the table and reinvent the table while we were doin’ it.
Peeples: At the front end of the book, I would have liked to have seen more about his experience in the Army. It seems like there are two sentences devoted to that and then bam, he’s in L.A. The 101st Airborne is where he met Billy Cox, who would figure into the story then, and later, replacing Noel on bass after he left the trio.
Harvey: That’s a very good point, and it’s funny, but during editing, I took some of that front section out and moved it to the Billy Cox section later in the book where Billy kind of amplifies it. I think that’s been covered in so many other books. In ours, Billy addresses his relationship with Jimi and being bunk buddies and playing bass and stuff like that. We are restricted with word count, but you are making a really good point.
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Peeples: Well, we’ve got about four minutes left, and that just got me to the middle of my second page of questions. I have six pages…
Kenneth: Well, how about a lightning round, Stephen? I promise to be concise, and I’m sure Harvey can be as well.
Peeples: OK, Chitlin’ Circuit, he comes down to L.A. with Little Richard in early ’65. He’s at Ciro’s, during the time when The Byrds were playing a bunch of shows. Now, Chris [Hillman] told me this great story about how Little Richard’s band stole all The Byrds’ jackets, which they had stashed in the dressing room. But as Harvey mentioned, Chris also told you a little more about seeing Jimi with Little Richard, and that’s in the book.
Harvey: Yeah, can you imagine being Chris Hillman, you’re with The Byrds, you’re seeing Little Richard, and you’re checkin’ out this dude playing guitar with him. And then, like a year and a half later, you’re playing with your band at the Monterey International Pop Festival and you go, “Wait a second! That’s the guy we saw two years ago on Sunset Boulevard!”
Peeples: And then Johnny Echols’ story about how instead of showering or washing his clothes, Jimi had another method to freshen up when he was on the road.
Harvey: Well, he used to carry a can of Right Guard deodorant, because who had time or even opportunity to go to laundromats back then? Or who knows if playing for Little Richard, if the payment or the stipend would even cover band uniforms? Those are the little insights that always connected with me.
Peeples: We all had cans of Right Guard in our PE lockers in junior high and high school. Woof, I can smell it now, unfortunately.
Another cool thing you guys cover is the “Purple Haze” origin story. Jimi’s in New York, 1966, crashing at David Budge’s apartment when Jimi was playing clubs with Curtis Knight and The Squires.
I used to work with David at Cashbox on Sunset in Hollywood in the mid-1970s. He was the editor, his first industry job as a non-performer, and hired me, my first industry pro job. Changed my life forever. We’ve stayed in touch. I called him up as I was reading this bit in Voodoo Child about him. He answered the phone. After a little catching up, I told him about the mention in your book and asked him to tell me the whole story, which, in all the years we had known each other, I’d only heard small parts of.
Budge was the lead singer of the Druids of Stonehenge, the red-hot house band at Ondine’s, conveniently just a few minutes away from his parents’ apartment. Curtis didn’t pay the band, and Jimi got thrown out of his hotel, he said. So, David invited Jimi to stay at his place temporarily.
“Actually, it wasn’t the floor, it was my couch,” Budge told me. [He’s second from right, above. — ed.] And David said it was OK because his dad, mom, and brother were all out of town, and the apartment had been left to him. He was just helping out a friend in need. So it was just Jimi and David club-hopping and taking girls back to the pad and partying for two and a half weeks while the folks were away.
But anyway, I had known about the connection between David and Jimi and the Druids, but the origin of “Purple Haze” is a story in your book I’d never heard before, how Druid guitarist Bill Tracy was at Budge’s place, sharing some poetry by Rimbaud with Jimi, who particularly liked one with a line about “purple mists, steaming and free…”
Harvey: Now, that story was courtesy of Mike Stax, another writer for Ugly Things magazine, which they’re listed as “Told to.” In our book, you actually get the origin and the birth of song lyrics or other things that other people over the years maybe missed, or they were focused on other things, which is their prerogative. So, I think the book takes us into some real deep crevices, and I’m very proud of it.
Peeples: Well, let’s wrap it up on a Chas Chandler note. That would be about the tail-end of the pre-history, before he takes Hendrix back to the U.K. to get Experienced.
You tell the story about how Keith Richards’ model girlfriend, Linda Keith, was hanging out in New York in summer 1966 when the Stones were touring the States. She was a big Hendrix fan and tried to get all her influential friends to go see this guy and his own band, Jimmy and the Blue Flames, playing at various clubs in New York.
Chandler, meanwhile, landed in town as The Animals were breaking up, was lookin’ for somebody to manage and had this Tim Rose song he was hot on, “Hey Joe,” that he wanted somebody to record. Chandler ran into Linda Keith at Ondine’s on July 5; she urged him to go see Hendrix, who was playing at Cafe Wha? When Chandler got there, the first song he heard Hendrix perform was “Hey Joe,” of all things. What kind of omen would that be to Chas Chandler?
Kenneth: Well, haven’t we talked all during this conversation about serendipity is another word you might use to describe how these contours in history seem to have almost some kind of pre-determination to them? We can speculate about it, and we can also just revel in the incredulity of how these things all came together.
And to tie it up, Stephen, to your initial comments about the concision of a four-year burst like The Beatles and President Lincoln: it’s almost as if these things have to be that way. This gets back to what I’m talking before about these pressure points, where these events coordinate among themselves in a way that leads in invariably to these dramatic outcomes. And then they’re over with. I mean, when you have an explosion, what precipitates that explosion are very inert materials that when you put them in combination, they just go blooey!
Jimi Hendrix, as you go back and look at the highlights or lowlights and all in between, he’s just lurching from one moment of nitroglycerin to the next until they all come together and explode. And it’s just extraordinary that this man was able to keep it together as long as he did. We always complain about him being gone so quickly. I look at it the other way in saying it’s remarkable we got four years of him, considering what he accomplished in just that time.
Harvey: Jimi had no handbook; he was the handbook.
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The clip above of Jimi, Mitch, and Billy performing “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” was filmed on the island of Maui on July 30, 1970. It comes from the “Live In Maui” DVD.
Not all photos in this post appear in the book “Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child.” Every effort has been made to identify and credit other photographers. If you can provide further info, please email skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com.
Special thanks also to Rory Aronsky for the transcript.
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“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way.”
— Jimi Hendrix, “EXP,” Axis: Bold As Love
Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated multi-media writer-producer and radio/record-industry veteran raised in Miami and Los Angeles. He saw Hendrix live three times: the first Miami Pop Festival at Gulfstream Park on May 18, 1968; Newport ’69 at Devonshire Downs on June 20, 1969; and the San Diego Sports Arena on July 25, 1970. Based in Santa Clarita, California, Peeples is (as of late 2021) co-authoring a book with artist and pop-culture legend John Van Hamersveld commemorating the 60th anniversary of Hammer’s iconic poster for “The Endless Summer” in 2023. Peeples is also developing an art book-biography of notorious Texas Artlaw Boyd Elder, as well as the backstage memoirs of Cindy Johnson and Jeri Jenkins of Home At Last, the Miami-based concierge service for rock stars recording at Criteria and Bayshore Studios. For more info and original stories and interviews, visit Peeples’ website and YouTube channel.
Article: Jimi Hendrix ‘Voodoo Child’ Bio: Kubernik Brothers Q&A
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Category: News and Reviews
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com